Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

Discussion in 'Literature' started by CooperTFN, Sep 2, 2012.

  1. jedimaster203 Force Ghost

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    Ahh yes, this old argument.

    The problem with diversity in the EU is that the white human (straight) male is the core demographic of comic books, novels, and games. Developers tend to try to develope relatable characters, otherwise they risk sales. They also stick with what the audience knows. This is why we've been stuck with Luke, Han, and Leia for thirty years worth of expanded universe.

    Another problems with the introduction of diversity is that you risk making those characters parodies. Or worse, you just try to shoehorn a character into a story and make them behave in a way that panders insultingly. For example, I think Jaina is a horrible character. I want to like her, but she is just a static character that has shown absolutely no growth since the Vector Prime. She is a bland action hero that doesn't even have a distinctive appearance. Mara Jade, on the other hand, had a decades long character arc where she went from sith assassin imperial to firey smuggler, to full fledge jedi and devote wife and mother. Mara Jade would have been an excellent protagonist, but instead they forced Jaina on us.

    tl:dr
    1) There isn't diversity because we don't really expect it, and WHMs still sell.
    2) If you try to hard for diversity, you're going to make a fool of the character
    3) Characters are defined by their struggles and growth, not by their gender/race/species/orientation.
    4) We're a Freudian demographic, peeps.
    5) I like listing things.
    6) haha.
  2. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    That isn't going to happen if the writer is competent
    Or they just think they sell
    Really though imo when they made the Exile and Revan white they kind of killed whatever interest I had in the characters and made them just two more bland white characters in a franchise overrun with them
    Last edited by Esg, Sep 6, 2012
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  3. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    @cthugha - I don't remember if we actually got POV scenes or not, but I remember Ooryl from X-Wing as being a good example of embracing other-ness. And I think it's an absolute crime that BHW's overall iffyness has (I'm guessing) kept the Assembler(s) from showing up in the EU more often. There's nothing else in canon quite like them, and there's a real role they could be playing in bigger stories.

    As much as one could unpack from the notion that main characters have to be WHMs to be "relatable", I object almost as much to this whole idea that mains have to be relatable. If DR sees WHM mains as the only way to make a SW book sell well, then they should concentrate more on making better SW books. And if they don't see things that way, then there's no excuse at all.

    Edit: look at that, I responded to @jedimaster203 's point without even having read his post yet. ;)

    That said...
    Mara went so far as to have an actual human being cast as her and she still doesn't have a "distinctive appearance". Mara's "distinctive appearance" is "redhead". As to your description of her character arc, all you really did there was list the jobs she's had, which could just as easily be done with Jaina and would prove nothing of either character's value.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Sep 6, 2012
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  4. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    And as long as we stick to that logic, people won't relate to non-white non-straight non-males.
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  5. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    Also it's not like the comics are at rhe top of the charts. Theirs room for experimentation
  6. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Well not to muddy the waters, but I would think that there's more room for experimentation when they are at the top of the charts. The economy being rough is probably a legitimate reason why DH is leaning more on old standbys lately. But that's still more a matter of "Luke sells" than "white sells".
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Sep 6, 2012
  7. AdmiralNick22 Fleet Admiral of Literature

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    IIRC, the X-wing series of books did have chapters from alien POV's. I know one chapter in particular (a rather brilliant one to boot!) from Wedge's Gamble is told from Ackbar's POV. While having a private meeting with Fey'lya over the New Republic's plans to liberate Coruscant. That chapter is required EU reading, IMO, as it also gives a bit more insight into the Ackbar/Fey'lya dynamic.

    Ooryl gets some POV chapters as well, IIRC.

    --Adm. Nick
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  8. cthugha Jedi Grand Master

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    Oh yes, the Gand... and didn't X-Wing also use Givins in something of a crucial role at some point?

    I'm totally with you on that point -- I really like reading "far-out" POVs, characters with exotic backgrounds and motivations and all that... but I see how this is probably not for the mass market. I'm a great fan of Greg Egan's work, for example, because he does this to the extreme; but I can see how most of my friends, even those who like science fiction, find his books to hard to get into, his characters too weird and their problems too unlike their own.
    But then again, I'm still hoping for the whole digital publishing line to give us some much-needed "minority audience" stuff -- the hard-science-fiction angle K.W. Jeter and some others started to bring to Star Wars, and generally more experimental stuff.
  9. jedimaster203 Force Ghost

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    Hey guys, I just want to point out that I am not against diversity in literature. I realize that my post probably came off as totally pro-status quo, pro-honkey, and anti-female. It wasn't intended that way. I was just saying that they are targeting a core demographic, and that cramming a minority character totally reeks of "token minority."

    Well you have me there. Perhaps I should have mentioned that Mara went from a person who had nothing except a ship to a person who endured struggle, made tough choices, and eventaully became a person that a cared for other people. Jaina has done a lot of that stuff, just not in a dynamic fashion. Jaina has always been a bland jedi, and now she is a bland jedi master. I'm not a Jaina hater. I'm really not, I just don't necessarily think she's terribly interesting.

    I think the upcoming sword of the jedi series has potential to make Jaina a better character. Or it could do the opposite and turn Jaina into an even more boring person. I really fear this because Golden isn't really the best author out there, and if it isn't very good it my hurt the chances of more diversity in the EU. They're going to go straight back to "white dude sells and Jaina didn't".
  10. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    No worries. You're more or less right about tokenism, but I think you kind of have to push through that to get to where things should be; better to take your lumps than never try, I think. I (and the others, I'd guess) mostly disagree with the idea that they're "targeting" white readers--I think they're only the majority of the audience insofar as they're a majority anyway, and based on my own experience as a white reader, I would hate to think they're assuming I'm not interested in/capable of relating to nonwhite characters. Others have made the point that women actually buy more books than men overall; imagine if publishers suddenly decided they weren't interested in male main characters.

    I'm still willing to give Golden the benefit of the doubt on Jaina, but the last thing I want to do is hang the diversity argument on whether or not she's written well. :p
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Sep 6, 2012
  11. beccatoria Force Ghost

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    Coop - thanks. ;)

    I actually wish I DID like Ziro more than I do, because I agree, conceptually I think there's something very rich there. Certainly I don't want to dismiss the way the genderqueer nature of Hutts is being explicitly confirmed by a high profile, "more" official source. It's why I think it's a terrible missed opportunity more than a malicious attack. He's a character who would be far less problematic immediately if nothing about him were changed, but he simply existed in a context where he wasn't the only one. Or his race weren't the only ones representing that style of gender identity. Because preventing groups from being portrayed as villains or antagonists for fear of poor presentation is still basically boxing them in and out of certain roles.

    Still...as much as I enjoy his existence theoretically I...have problems with it, as I said before. I think the level of stereotyping is hard to ignore and overwhelms the subtler aspects of his character such as how normal his behaviour is portrayed in a Hutt-related context. Which I suppose is where that missed opportunity/stereotypical attack thing comes in; in-universe he's not mocked for his behaviour which is definitely important. In texts that encourage close reading that might be considered enough to claim that the clear intention of the text is to challenge, rather than reinforce, those stereotypes. I know this can be done in TCW, because I recall thinking the Mandalorian arc handled the issue of pacifism with a fair amount of complexity. But I don't think they did this with Ziro. I don't think there's enough there that encourages people prone to just laughing at Priscilla Queen of the Desert for being a funny, gross crossdressing slug, to realise that actually that's a crossdressing slug who commands a lot of respect.

    I do understand how opinions might differ. Am I misremembering and did anyone mention the issue in-universe, only to get slapped down and shown how truly, competently menacing Ziro could be? That could have been an interesting way to call out the issue as a valid one, while still keeping the same characterisation.

    I'm sorry I wasn't clearer - I don't think we're disagreeing here. I don't think I ever said Ziro was gay - I'm not sure I know what I think his sexual orientation is, or even if that's a parameter that would matter to him. I said he was being written as a gay stereotype (specifically the older, theatrical drag queen), which I stand by. Like, that's his archetype. I mean, really, even dating Sy Snoodles isn't necessarily going against that, since a beard is part of that stereotyped older generation gay scene. For the record I don't actually think that's what's going on - as I said, I don't actually think Ziro is gay in-universe - but I think to deny the way he plays enormously to the stereotypes is to split hairs. And that's really what I was talking about - the way the choice to write him in this style frames the audience's reaction to the character and how I think that was done in a harmful, rather than useful, way.

    I spoke about him in the context of a discussion on monogendered species, and really I think the issues he raises are related to gender identity and gender performance (and for the record, I'd say he's male-identified and engaging in gender performance rather than identifying as female), not sexual orientation. But the two issues tend to get conflated, particularly when engaging in negative stereotyping; most of our stereotypes involving conflicts between biological gender, gender identity and "appropriate" gender-related behaviour involve homophobic assumptions at some point or other.

    White males are only "more relatable" because white males aren't trained from birth to learn to identify with people who are from demographics other than theirs, but people who aren't white and people who aren't male are.

    Are white males genuinely the majority of the audience? Possibly, but I also think that the demographics can surprise. After all, 40% of the audience for The Avengers was female. And there's also the issue that the received wisdom about sticking to their core audience may well be wrong. I mean, to talk about women again, just because I know slightly more about that, why not try to attract female readers when women are actually the ones who control the spending of most of the disposable income in the US even if they're not making the most money.

    But you HAVE to start somewhere. There's always going to be a first character, and even if the character is written impeccably, it's going to stick out because it's the first one. Someone will yell "token" regardless. And some of that responsibility is on the reader, to give it a chance and not snarkily dismiss it out of what I feel is often a fear of change, and a fear of the loss of privilege.

    So either this is an issue of poor writing, or it's something you just have to get through until you have a cast where characters CAN just be introduced without that external criticism and commentary. And part of that is, as I said, on the reader. We need to criticise characters because their writing is poor, because their writing is stereotypical in a way we can explain, not because we perceive they were only written as being of a certain gender, race or orientation "for the sake of it". Because that doesn't need to be justified.

    And in fairness, you didn't say any of that, so I will take on faith that that's not a perspective you hold. But I felt the need to at least address it in passing because I often see people claiming characters are tokenistic, or that it's "pandering" when what they really mean is "I think this character is a woman/from an ethnic minority/queer because the author wanted to write something other than a white man," as though that's not an inherently valid reason. And per the opening post, I believe diversity has inherent value.

    But if that's true, then why do characters have to be WHMs to be "relateable"? Because I see these two things paired all the time, in many contexts, not just Star Wars, and it always confuses me. On the one hand, "business is business, it's just what sells," but on the other hand, "it should be about good characters not demographics". So there's like this really weird situation where white males are what sells because white males are the ones who buy it, but the fact that the characters are white males is, at the same time, somehow completely irrelevant because it should be about the character arcs. ::brainsplosion::
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  12. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    I've always thought the huge popularity of characters like Quinlan Vos surely shows you don't need to be the the stereotypical WHM to reach a mass audience?

    While it's easy to fall foul of appearing like a "token" ethnic character, it'd be so, so easy for them to re-introduce the Vos descendants into the books, making their return anything but a token role, and at least adding some, albeit still only slight, diversity to the books. Or (gasp!) make Chance Calrissian one of Allana's friends!

    But no, much easier to add another redhead. :oops:

    Seriously, what the heck happened to Chance? One minute, we get a load of stuff about him doing things on Kessel or whatever it was, the next... vanished.
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  13. Todd the Jedi Mod and Sitcom Dad of SWTV

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    Apocalypse mentions "Lando and his family" as attendees of Jaina's wedding, so I think that that implies that Chance is there too.
  14. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Isn't Chance only like three still? I forget.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Sep 6, 2012
  15. Todd the Jedi Mod and Sitcom Dad of SWTV

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    It is kinda sad that Han's granddaughter is six years older than Lando's son. Which also means Han had children over thirty years before Lando, the so-called smoothie.
    Last edited by ToddtheJedi, Sep 6, 2012
  16. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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  17. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    So he's like Herc?
  18. Rilwen_Shadowflame Force Ghost

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    Almost makes me wonder how limited some people are content to be, and how they're expected to go through life.
    RL POCs can relate to white protagonists, I'm sure.
    I, as a woman, can still relate to male protagonists.

    If we can stretch ourselves that far, how can a white guy do less? Too bad it can't be presented that way to some; that the brands they like clearly think they are too stupid, too profoundly limited, to understand a character who isn't just like them. That they are being insulted by this parade of identical heroes offered up to them out of fear of a drop in sales.

    *shrug* Just my thought on it.
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  19. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    Some interesting stuff from the Art of Star Wars Episode II.
  20. CaptainPeabody Force Ghost

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    Well, you can't blame him too much for going with Christopher Lee. That'd be hard to resist for almost anyone...

    Nevertheless, Kreia/Traya IS one of the most effective Sith Lords (or villains period) in the EU, and a character like her could have been really effective done right. I've been replaying Kotor 2 with the Restored Content Mod and spending more time talking to Kreia than I ever have before, and I've been blown away by how sympathetic, interesting, and outright tragic they were able to make her character while still having her be essentially a cruel, manipulative monster. It rather makes we wish Obsidian had been able to complete their planned plot option of the Exile being able to redeem Kreia and have Atris assume the mantle of Traya instead. Especially once you realize that she's actually Arren Kae...

    That's rather a digression, but the point is you can make really interesting female characters and female villains without them being "young, sexy, female who somehow continues to look young and sexy into her 70s" like Lumiya, Daala, Aurra Sing, and Asaj Ventress, and those villains can be interesting and compelling enough that young, male me is utterly fascinated with them and sympathetic towards them.
    Last edited by CaptainPeabody, Sep 6, 2012
  21. Havac Some Guy Who Moderates Lit

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    Have there been any female villains who weren't sexualized? I can only think of Gethzerion and Kreia, the two old-hag witch villains. Daala was all about her sexual past. Isard had an undercurrent of cougar sex appeal and a rumored sexual past with Palpatine. Ventress initially wasn't sexualized, but of course she ended up being. Ta'a Chume was a supercougar. Alema Rar was super-sexualized. Darth Talon, fanboy sex-appeal machine. It's all sexy femme fatales and two old crones.
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  22. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    None of any particular significance comparable to those, I believe.
  23. Rilwen_Shadowflame Force Ghost

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    Maladi was a bit colder than Talon, and definitely wore more clothes... I don't know how she ended up in later things, but I did get the impression she was a lot more 'evil science is the best kind' as opposed to 'hey, I have evil tattoos! Let me show you ALL of them' like Talon...
    Last edited by Rilwen_Shadowflame, Sep 6, 2012
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  24. Havac Some Guy Who Moderates Lit

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    Ah, yeah, Maladi is a good example of a character who doesn't fall into either trope -- just a genuinely competent villain who happens to be female. Great. Any others?
  25. Barriss_Coffee Chosen One

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    I knew there was a reason I had a lot of respect for Maladi. Even after she lost her mind.

    Zam Wessel wasn't particularly over-sexualized, except for the first couple of pages of that once comic she had with Jango. She could have been a male in most of her role in the EU and no one would tell the difference (thinking of the comics, Scholastic kids books, and Bounty Hunter the game here).

    She's not the most "competant" of villains though.... just a run-of-the-mill, batting-average villain.
    Last edited by Barriss_Coffee, Sep 6, 2012
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